Malaysia will fight Christians' right to call God 'Allah'

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The Independent Online

The Malaysian government is to challenge a court ruling which decreed that Christians have a constitutional right to use the word Allah to refer to God.

Last week's High Court verdict sparked small, peaceful protests by Muslim groups and raised fears of friction between the Malay Muslim majority and the large ethnic Chinese and Indian minorities, who mainly practise Christianity, Buddhism and Hinduism.

Jamil Khir Baharom, the minister responsible for Islamic affairs, said at the weekend that the prime minister's department would file an appeal against the verdict. However, he called upon Muslims to respect the court's decision and for all parties to be patient and allow the dispute to be resolved through the legal process.

The High Court's decision struck down a government ban on non- Muslims translating God as Allah in their literature. Minorities welcomed the move as a blow against what many consider to be institutionalised religious discrimination.

The court ruling came in response to a lawsuit filed in late 2007 by The Herald, the Roman Catholic Church's main publication in Malaysia. The government ban affected the newspaper's Malay-language edition, read mostly by indigenous tribes who converted to Christianity decades ago.

The verdict has divided Muslim commentators. Some agree with the government's insistence that Allah is an Islamic word that should be used exclusively by Muslims and that its use by other religions would be misleading. However, other Malaysian Muslim scholars say non-Muslims should be free to use the word.

Efforts by Christians to use Allah in Malay-language literature have been perceived by some Muslims "as a plot to convert Malay Muslims to Christianity", Anas Zubedy, a popular Muslim blogger on social and political issues, wrote after the court verdict, adding his support of the ruling.

The former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad said the government should set strict conditions for the use of the word Allah to ensure that the court verdict did not trigger religious tensions. "What I am afraid of is that the term 'Allah' might be used in such a way that could inflame the anger of Muslims," he said.

Officials recently confiscated 10,000 copies of Malay Bibles because they contained the word Allah. AP